I am the worst cook in the country… yes I really am. Not only have I made Honey and Mustard Chicken without honey and with English Mustard but, also managed to mess up the simplest fairy cakes only last week. So, traditional Dorset fayre will be a real challenge for me!
I have been visiting suppliers where I can talk to them about the County; why Dorset food is so special and why we should all be tempted to try ingredients produced in Dorset.
I will be attempting to re-create two classic Dorset dishes; Dorset Blue Vinney Soup and Dorset Apple Cake.
First on my list is the not so famous soup, which really should be! To source the rare Dorset Vinney Cheese, I ventured to North Dorset and to the largest producers of Dorset Blue Vinney Cheese, Woodbridge Farm. My photographer and I, traveled past the market town of Sturminster Newton, on past the Stock Gaylard Estate, passing stunning lush countryside that North Dorset is famous for. Being mostly clay soil, the fields are wet but, my gosh the grass is green!
We were greeted by the delightful Emily who helps run this large family enterprise. The first thing that struck us was the smell that greeted us… not the usual farmyard pong but, the sweet smell of pickles and chutney, which are also produced on this 500 acre farm.
Emily is rightfully, very proud of all that the farm has achieved, overcoming the dire milk prices and diversifying into cheese production. Though most of the 3-4 tonnes of cheese that is made per day is sold wholesale, Emily also runs a pop up shop, which sells the divine off-cuts to the general public.
We take a stroll around the farm and being country lasses, we have brought our wellies, which Emily comments is not always the case. First the milking parlour, state of the art, cleaned after the morning milk. Emily informs us that they always use the morning milk for the Dorset Blue Vinney Cheese as it has the highest butter fat content. The farm is a modern one with nutrition and breeding at the forefront of production. The herd is Fresian Holstein, with some fine, large specimens.
Emily is very passionate about what she does and a great source of knowledge. I am very interested in the history of the cheese and ask Emily, how long the family have farmed here and where the history of the cheese dates from. ‘We have farmed here for over 40 years and pretty much resurrected the cheese from obscurity. At one time it was made in homesteads all over the County. There are some old wives tales that advise you how to make the blue in ‘Dorset Blue Vinney Cheese’. Emily smiles ‘Apparently if put your muddy wellies next to the cheese, that helps the blue and I even remember talk of slug slime’
What strikes you most about this farm, is the quiet. The cows are bedded on sand during the winter, and quietly munch away on their rations. I’ve seen a few farms in my time and the cows normally blare at any new visitor, but here the herd are unusually quiet. I was very impressed too, with the standards of welfare, no lame cows, well tended hooves. The calves too, are well looked after; although a result of lack of space, the calf pods make sense to Emily ‘they are hygienic, easy to clean and prevent disease’. Those calves that require a bit of extra comfort even have their own rugs.
Due to health and safety, we were unable to see the cheese production but, Emily generously donated a huge slab of fine Dorset cheese and some pickles to accompany. Woodbridge Farm also produce the soup I was going to attempt to make, so I asked for some tips. ‘Dorset Blue Vinney Soup is not a cheese soup, its a vegetable soup with cheese so, do not use too much cheese’.
So after scrubbing the kitchen, I selected my ingredients. Now I have to confess that despite my best efforts I have cheated slightly with some ‘every little helps’ creme fraiche and vegetable stock. With the aid of my little helper, three year old Ethan, we got to work.
I used the recipe from the farm website, it was easy to follow and follow it I did (normally I add a few of my own ingredients for fun). Firstly we chopped the potatoes into cubes and the onions and leeks into slices. Knowing that the veg would simmer in the stock, I remembered my partners advice and made the slices and cubes the same size.
1 and ½ pints of good vegetable stock
50g Dorset Blue Vinney (or other Blue cheese – e.g. Stilton or Sitchelton)
2 leeks sliced
225g potato, peeled and chopped
Salt and pepper
The veg is fried in a little bit of vegetable oil for three minutes, then you add your 1.5 litres of stock and simmer until the veg is soft. I managed to fit in a quick jungle puzzle, whilst the veg happily bubbled on the stove. I then took Emily’s advice and added 50 grams of cheese. At this point I couldn’t help but have a quick nibble. Now, I do not like Stilton, I find it bitter but I was pleasantly surprised by this blue veined cheese – it was lovely and creamy but not heavy, milder than Stilton but, still with a solid blue veined taste.
Much to my surprise, all had gone well so far. The next step was to turn the veg into a smooth soup with the food processor. Well, I had spoke too soon, I could not find the lid and thought a plate over the top would be an excellent substitute. Having filled to the top, there was a mini soup explosion, covering half of the kitchen, much worsened by the fact that in a panic I decided I could manually prevent the soup from escaping rather than turning the darn thing off!
Still, unperturbed and left with a good amount of soup, I prepared to serve up for my guinea pigs. The soup was returned to the hob with a dollop of creme fraiche added at the last minute. A nice piece of chunky bread later, and we were ready for the moment of truth and……
IT WAS DELICIOUS…..
No it really was. I loved it, my little fussy boy enjoyed a whole bowl full and I sat smug in the knowledge that I had successfully managed to produce food that was beyond ‘not burnt’ and actually tasted very good. I have to add that the soup is very quick and easy to make. It is very moorish, not at all heavy, sits lightly in the stomach but can be a meal in itself.
My next adventure will be Dorset Apple Cake, being March my only problem is Dorset apples. Where to find them……..
If you would like to cook the soup itself, want to buy some Dorset Blue Vinney Cheese or sample some delightful chutney, please visit the Woodbridge Farm site.